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   July 2, 2002 | 2015 IST


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South Korea salutes team

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Diehard 'Red Devil' fans lined the streets of Seoul on Tuesday for a ticker-tape parade by the South Korea squad whose spirited fourth-place finish at the World Cup set new standards for soccer in Asia.

The Seoul thoroughfare that millions of euphoric fans turned into a sea of red jerseys during the tournament took centre stage again as President Kim Dae-jung presented medals to the squad and coaches.

Rock bands set the stage for the send-off to a football squad that captured hearts far beyond South Korea with their fast, fearless brand of football during the World Cup, which ended on Sunday.

Police said about 50,000 fans gathered in front of the historic Kwanghwamoon gate to greet a motorcade carrying Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, his staff and 23 players.

"You made such a big impression worldwide," Hiddink told the supporters.

"The way you supported (us), the behaviour in and around the stadiums was unforgettable, terrific," he said, adding his trademark fist pump, seen after each of South Korea's goals, to the roar of the crowd.


Swaying fans filled stadiums, streets, bars and offices during matches with rousing choruses of "Oh Pilsung Korea" (Victory Korea) and "Dae-han Min-kuk" (Republic of Korea).

President Kim personally pinned the country's top Order of Sport Merit medal on Hiddink's lapel and also presented medals to his coaching staff and squad.

Kim, dubbed South Korea's cheerleader-in-chief during the tournament, also presented Hiddink with honorary citizenship for his contribution to South Korean football.

"We will always remember you" read a huge poster of Hiddink and the team on a building overlooking the parade route.

The president said the World Cup had been "like a dream" in a speech delivered earlier in the day after returning from Japan where he had joined Emperor Akihito to watch Sunday's final.

"As a co-host, we were concerned that we might not make it to the last 16, but we advanced to the last eight and then the last four. It was like a dream," Kim said.

"I'm so proud of Hiddink and our soccer players," Kim said in a speech that mixed happiness with a stern warning over a weekend naval battle with North Korean forces that cost four South Korean sailors' lives and wounded 19.


Under Hiddink, South Korea produced fast, physical football that galvanised the nation as police estimated 22 million fans took part in street celebrations.

They witnessed a dream run that came within one game of the final after wins over Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain.

They were stunning victories for a squad that entered the tournament ranked 40th in the world and a country winless in five previous finals dating back to 1954.

After fearing they might become the first hosts not to advance beyond the first round, South Korea instead took fourth place in the most successful showing by an Asian side in the tournament's 72-year history.

Hiddink's 18 months as coach were widely seen as the difference, though the modest Dutchman repeatedly gave credit to talented players quick and eager to learn.

Co-hosts Japan also topped expectations by reaching the final 16 in just their second World Cup.

The tournament ended on Sunday with Brazil winning a record fifth title after a 2-0 victory over Germany in Yokohama, Japan.

On Monday, South Korea declared a national holiday as the country recovered from a frenzied, yet peaceful, month of football.


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